Where Are All the Jerks in My Life?
By Bryan Caplan
Do you deal with unpleasant, petty, and/or vicious people during your typical day? I don’t. As far as I can tell, I personally know a strangely small number of jerks. As an econo-nerd, of course, I can’t just be thankful for my good fortune. I’ve got to analyze why I happen to live in a virtually jerk-free corner of the world.
Here are the leading hypotheses:
1. I’m oblivious. There are plenty of jerks all around me; I just live in such a nerdy professorial fog that I don’t notice them.
2. Personal selection. I’m really good at screening out and/or scaring off jerks.
3. Club selection. It’s not that I’m a jerk repellent; rather, I’ve been admitted into a club that screens out/scares away jerks.
4. Personal deterrence. Maybe I do something that convinces jerks to behave themselves around me. For example, my seemingly implacable demeanor may deprive the typical jerk of the satisfaction of pulling my chain.
5. Club deterrence. Perhaps I belong to a club that punishes jerkiness to an unusual degree.
6. I’ve got surprisingly good social skills. Laugh if you must! According to this hypothesis, I am less likely than others to provoke jerky behavior. The most obvious mechanism is that I habitually ignore the minor offenses of others, and apologize for my own minor offenses. I assume that others’ slights against me are unintentional, and happily say “I’m sorry,” even when I think I’ve done nothing wrong. As a result, my differences with others rarely spiral into a cycle of out-of-sync tit-for-tat.
7. My club has surprisingly good social skills. Does that even make sense?
8. Beckerian segregation. I’m not really in a low-jerk club. I’m in a club of like-minded people, who are, as a result, able to amicably co-exist.
9. I’m a jerk, and/or belong to a jerk club. Jerkiness is invisible to me not because I’m oblivious, but because I regard it as normal.
Useful data: My life didn’t become a low-jerk zone until I entered college. It didn’t become virtually jerk-free until I got hired by GMU. So unless I’ve gotten much more oblivious with age, we can reject #1, and probably #7 as well. #8 is very tempting, but many clubs of like-minded people are hotbeds of petty jealousy and heresy-hunting.
What’s your take? And if you’re right, how can we mass produce my experience?
P.S. Question: My impression is that most economists do not enjoy a low-jerk environment. Any other econo-bloggers care to weigh in? Of course, if the jerks are watching your every move, you can post under a pseudonym. 🙂